Nicola Sciascia 1840-1898
The story of the Italian lighthouse keeper who married Riria McGregor (the daughter of Teone McGregor, Captain Jock McGregor's only suviving child and Pirahira, daughter of Poutu Hairuha and Rangiwaea)
Preface by Professor Piri Sciascia
La Famiglia Sciascia da Nuova Zelanda
Taketake tukairangi whakatakune huauri ai
Hirere toto hirere tatea
Nau ra kei taku kokoro taotapu
Tau atu koe ki taiororua o mate
Haere horetiti mai
Mate horetata atu
The invitation by our respected Sicilian relative, Ambassador Francesco
Paolo Fulci Sciascia, has now been realized with the production of this
story of Nicola. A man of vision, Paolo invited us to gather together the
fragments of knowledge concerning our beloved tipuna/nonno to be
included in a further publication on the Sciascia whanau/famiglia. Here a
year later is that contribution. We can only marvel at Paolo’s patience.
This story belongs to more than the several thousand of us who are the family. This is a story of New Zealand, of Italy, a Maori story, a pioneer’s story, a story of genealogical interlacing far more embedded into the psyche of New Zealanders than initially meets the eye. Who for example could have foretold the Jewish origins, or the Bisceglie connection? The Maori, Scottish and Italian mix here speaks of a time of fluidity, of global movement, of footprints now scarcely discernible but for the few records rediscovered on this exciting journey of family love.
These writings will be part of a greater account of la famiglia Sciascia. They have a
particular focus around the 1838 marriage of Carlo Sciascia and Maria Giacinta de Toma and their children, continuing on through generations to ourselves, their descendants who became a reunited family after close to two hundred years. Hanga whakamiharo. Miracoloso. Praise the Lord.
So, welcome, gather, let’s celebrate this taonga. As we have done with Felicity’s “Making Waves”, for Captain Jock the grandfather of Riria, Nicola’s faithful wife. And again with Marina and Hilary’s “Hakui” and “Tuahine” where many of the mothers and sisters are Nicola’s descendants. Our abiding gratitude yet again to Felicity.
It has been written that “The capacity of a family to strengthen, educate and enrich goes far beyond any measurable authority or influence. By its very nature, the family has an inherent power to foster human life”. We have been blessed so: blessed by tenaciously inspired efforts made over many decades to record, to enquire, to research and now here to collate our precious history, a tatau korero, with the confidence born of meticulous research and accompanying creativity and imagination. Here is a blueprint for a greater journey.
A final word to our Uncle Sonny Sciascia of Levin – e te Matua, tena koe. When the ancient city of Trani, the birthplace of Nicola invested you with citizenship we all became citizens with you. Wonderful thing tikanga Maori, our whakapapa. A chief can’t be alone. In that one investiture was four thousand others. We travel with you always. And we know our Italian cousins will understand as we continue to arrive by the busload.
A reading of the eye witness account of Nicola’s death reminds us of the ‘sacred wound’ of our family. The text as a whole however is yet another step towards building our faith in ourselves and in life. From New Zealand we may offer this gift to our beautiful relatives, as a worthy contribution that is given as fully and freely as newborn confidence allows.
“Tenei ka tukua atu hei kawenata ki te ao” na Mahupuku.
Professor Piri Sciascia, Pro ViceChancellor
Maori, Victoria University of Wellington
Nicola Sciascia 1840-1848
INTRODUCTION by Felicity Campbell
Like iron sands to a magnet – the pieces we know take a shape, but there are pieces of Nicola Sciascia’s life which are out of range. They may emerge in time following further research. Nicola and Riria were well known in the Manawatu district because they were lively and interesting characters. The Sciascia family was empowered right from the start – Famiglia meets Whanau meets Clan McGregor! This was a very rich mix with Nicola, a well‐travelled European in his forties and Riria, a capable and intelligent Maori woman bearing the surname McGregor, marrying and producing a family of eleven healthy children.
It is no wonder that their children achieved so much to be proud of. Two of Riria and Nicola’s sons, John and Charles were in the 1913 Maori All Blacks. Charles Sciascia enlisted and fought at Flanders – tragically he was killed in action at La Basseville (now Warneton‐Comines) Belgium during the night of 31 July 1917. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren include many distinguished New Zealanders.
Riria’s great grandfather was Chief Tutepourangi and her Scottish grandfather was Captain Jock McGregor – some of the Sciascias’ leadership qualities derive from them; their intelligence and charm are partly Nicola’s gift; the constancy of their links to whanau, their fidelity to land and the sea is stated in their Maori whakapapa.
Newspapers and Marine Department reports will never provide a description of Nicola and Riria’s personalities and the nature of Nicola’s death inevitably seizes attention – both then and today. It is an imbalance to have ten minutes override almost sixty years, however the nature of his passing provided some of the most telling and personal contemporary commentary available because it prompted people to write and share their experiences of life on Portland Island. And even at a time when arguably life was more risky,
the plight of a young woman with a large family widowed so dramatically caught widespread attention – attention that resonated around the highest level of New Zealand government because of the presence of a very remarkable man on board the first ship to land officers on Portland Island after the accident.
A person’s life is not measured by their employment, but by who they were – the story of Riria and Nicola is a captivating one. There is some theory in this essay ‐ yet I feel in my bones that the few domestic scenes I have painted in this booklet are fitting. They are intended to interest the children as well as the senior generations because they are the ones who will eventually carry the heritage forward. I give my sincere thanks to family members for their guidance in construing details of Nicola’s life from their precious source material.
In 2007 nearly forty of New Zealand Sciascia descendents, led by their elder, Sonny Sciascia (Horace), returned to Nicola’s birthplace of Trani. Their tour included a visit to Sergeant Charles Sciascia’s memorial in Belgium and a highly memorable and widely publicised civic celebration in Trani where Sonny Sciascia, following initiatives by a relative, Paolo Fulci, was honoured by receiving the freedom of the city. Ambassador Paolo Fulci used his contacts and applied his talents to ensuring that this pilgrimage to Italy, Sonny Sciascia’s third, would be both authentic and inspirational for all concerned. He arranged for the very fine memorial
monument to Charles Sciascia to be built in Belgium.
Sadly, Charles’ body was never found, but when an appropriate location was chosen for this
monument, a German bayonet was discovered there. It is this bayonet, now charged with the symbolism of war, death, sacrifice, honour and remembrance, which has been brought to Porangahau Marae 30 November
2008 by the Italian Ambassador, Gioachinno Trizzino.
It is with great pleasure that I dedicate this booklet to Nicola and Riria’s descendants.